Due to some other things happening in my life over the last couple of weeks, I was unable to attend the other home preseason games, making this the first time that I had seen the home team live since the Open Practice. And what a sight it was!
Waiting outside prior to the Forum opening up, Chip and I chatted with some of the other fans. Then Chip turns and says, "Is that Artest?" Sure enough, there was Crazy Pills himself walking up to us, NY Mets hat atop his head and gametime sneakers in hand. After some small talk, he admitted that he just didn't feel like walking to the other side of the building where the players usually entered, so he decided to go through the main entrance. He was very polite and even a little shy.
We were selected to be MVP's for the night, which meant that we got some free t-shirts, watched warmups from the baseline and then stood in the line when starting lineups were announced, so we were able to slap hands and exchange fist bumps with the starters. (Relevant side note: Marc Gasol has ridiculously large hands.) Talk about a warm welcome to the season beginning. Prior to all of that, we got to watch shootaround, which was much more organized than we had previously realized. Antoine Walker was going through shooting drills with two assistant coaches until he was drenched in sweat. It was fairly impressive. On to the game!
Marc Gasol - The big Spaniard impressed me at Open Practice, has made believers out of his teammates through training camp and preseason, and did enough to raise quite a few eyebrows tonight. He was active and aggressive in his 19 minutes of play, including a sequence where he exchanged elbows with Joey Dorsey and Carl Landry on successive possessions, which failed to draw a whistle from the officials. The more I see him, the more comfortable I feel about him manning the pivot for this squad.
O.J. Mayo - The much-heralded rookie was the epitome of confidence. He never tried to do too much or force the issue, but had no problem whatsoever taking a few difficult shots with defenders in his face, including one fadeaway from the baseline that appeared to defy gravity as he hung in the air for what seemed like forever. On the occasions that he got the ball out front on the break, he either outran his opponents to the basket or found the open man for the easy bucket. He hasn't played like a rookie in the past two contests, which is very encouraging.
Darrell Arthur - I must admit that my expectations were fairly low for D.A., but he really had a quality performance tonight. He displayed a silky smooth touch on his jumper that just seemed too soft to belong to a PF. He also made several hustle plays, sticking his long arms into passing lanes and making deflections all night long. If he keeps this up, Hakim Warrick might be even more expendable than I had previously thought.
Darko Milicic - The Dark One played sparingly, registering just over 20 minutes, but was very effective while he was in the game. He was a solid defensive presence, but also showed some offensive abilities that hadn't been witnessed since early last season, registering 12 points on 4/5 shooting. He also had the game's highest +/- rating at +14.
Kyle Lowry - I don't know if it was the teammates he had on the floor with him, since he played with the bench players most of his 20 minutes, but Lowry was unable to set up anyone for an easy shot all night. His offense was simply off, as his shot wouldn't fall, leading to a 1 for 8 effort from the floor. He just didn't look good at all tonight.
Hakim Warrick - Hak tallied 10 points tonight, but 8 of those came from the free throw line, mostly when he barreled into his defender and got the bailout call from the refs. He also allowed Chuck Hayes and Carl Landry to get easy offensive rebounds on multiple occasions by refusing to fight for position. It was a disappointing effort to witness.
Javaris Crittenton - After seeing Chip's post today, I was hoping that Critt would read it and become inspired. Ok, maybe not really, but I was hoping to see something noteworthy from the young guard tonight. Instead, he was largely invisible, other than one play where he juked two Rockets defenders with a ball fake before banking in the easy layup. That's not a good sign for a young player who needs playing time to improve upon his deficiencies.
Perimeter Defense - The Grizzlies allowed the Rockets to make 18 of their 29 three-point attempts tonight. That's 62.1%, which is simply inexcusable.
Whoever was supposed to be guarding Von Wafer - To piggyback onto the last point, the player responsible for allowing Wafer's 23 point explosion (8/13 FG, 7/9 3PT) needs to be put in Kevin O'Neill's secret dungeon beneath the Forum for the next week. As Chip said tonight, "I thought that Von Wafer was a type of cookie".
Brent Barry's facial hair - Seriously, that growth on his face needs to be surgically removed. It is just hideous.
Luis Scola/Ron Artest - They were pathetic tonight. Now that I survived meeting Artest, I can say that in print.
I saw enough from the probable starters to be excited about what the future holds, although I still believe that they will be maddeningly inconsistent this year as they experience their share of growing pains. Conley and Mayo are both mature beyond their years, Rudy has enough swagger and confidence for two guys, and the Gasol/Milicic frontcourt pairing looks like it could work this season. I have lots of questions about the bench, but I'm not going to base everything on just one very entertaining preseason game.